Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Interview with E.F. Watkins

Growing up in Cranford, NJ, Eileen always aspired to write novels. As soon as she could print, she began folding sheets of letter-sized paper in half, drawing cover illustrations and attempting to write "books." Her earliest efforts involved adventure stories about horses. During her high school years at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth, NJ, she moved on to Nancy Drew-type mysteries.

In her freshman year at Marywood College in Scranton, PA, Eileen won first place in a college-wide short story contest. The real turning point occurred later that year, when a friend lent her a paperback of DRACULA. Eileen read it by flashlight during a thunderstorm and blackout in the dorm, and instantly knew that was the kind of book she wanted to write. More contemporary horror and suspense authors who have influenced her work since then include Ira Levin, Dean Koontz and Barbara Michaels.

Since 2003, Eileen has published six novels with Amber Quill Press LLC, five of them paranormal thrillers under the name "E. F. Watkins." Her first, DANCE WITH THE DRAGON, received a 2004 EPPIE Award from the national organization EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection.) as Best Horror Novel. Next came the "straight" romantic mystery RIDE A DANCING HORSE (as “Eileen Watkins”). Her third book, BLACK FLOWERS, was a finalist in the Thriller category in both the 2006 EPPIE Awards and the 2007 Indie Excellence Book Awards. She also has published the paranormal thrillers PARAGON and DANU'S CHILDREN. Her latest, ONE BLOOD, is a dark paranormal romantic suspense and a prequel to DANCE WITH THE DRAGON.

Watkins is a founding member of the Garden State Horror Writers, and also belongs to the mystery-writers’ group Sisters in Crime/Central Jersey and The Writer’s Workshop of Bergen County, NJ. She has taught fiction-writing seminars for the adult school in Wayne, NJ.

F. Paul Wilson, best-selling author of THE KEEP and THE SELECT, has said “E. F. Watkins is a writer to watch!” The Internet site Roundtable Reviews observed, “Watkins manages to combine the supernatural with everyday issues to create a world that is horrifyingly like our own,” and the magazine Eternal Night has called her "a true master of terror.”

A professional journalist for more than 30 years, Eileen has written about art, architecture, fine crafts and interior design for daily newspapers and local, national and international magazines. She shares her 1922 house in northern New Jersey with two cats--Bela and Harley--and decorates it with furniture, fabrics and accessories from the 1930s-40s.


1) Links to website and list of books with purchase links.

 2) How long have you been writing?
I’ve been seriously writing fiction since my senior year of college, many, many moons ago.

What got you in to writing?
I always wanted to, because as a child I was a voracious reader. I started a few “books” while I was still in grade school, but alas, didn’t get very far.

3) What was your first published book?

Looking back, is there anything you’d change about it?
I would smooth out some of the prose—I think I’ve improved along that line since then. Also, there are details I would change, especially about technology, because they date it as taking place around 1999-2000. I sort of solved that problem when I wrote the prequel, ONE BLOOD, last year. I gave it a prelude that explains both books take place in the days just before 9-11. That is significant, because a character becomes a remote viewer to protect the U.S. from terrorism.

4) What or who has influenced your writing?
In college, I got into gothics and—like many people—the TV show DARK SHADOWS. I also started reading Stephen King and Ira Levin. Of the two, I think I’m more influenced by Levin! I like to set my thrillers among middle-class, educated people and throw in a paranormal element that upsets their whole world and challenges them psychologically as well as physically. And like Levin, I also inject some black humor and emphasize strong female characters.

5) Where do you get your ideas?
I actually write about home improvement, interior design and architecture for a living, so places influence me a lot. The gothic Princeton campus at night; a depressed “coal town” where buildings occasionally sink from mine subsidence; an old theater under renovation that could be haunted. When I can people that kind of setting with characters who also capture my imagination, my plots tend to evolve from there.

6) What hinders your writing?
I hold down a demanding full-time job, so I always have to make time to write during the few hours that I’m home. On the other hand, I don’t have a family making demands, as many other authors do! Unless my cats are especially hungry, they’re pretty unobtrusive.

7) What genre are you most comfortable with?
So far I’ve written mostly paranormal thrillers, in which you know pretty early on who the bad guys are and the main question is how to stop them. That’s been my comfort zone for many years.

What would you like to explore?
I’ve just started a mystery series that’s almost “cozy,” with a psychic amateur sleuth and a bit more humor. I’m having a great time with that, but it’s a challenge to hold back clues and spread out the suspicion so the reader isn’t quite sure who is guilty of what, until the very end.

8) Are you a by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of writer, or do you have to use an outline to put your collective thoughts into some semblance of common sense?
Somewhere in between. I usually start on a book to get a feel for where it’s going, then outline a bit and still make adjustments as I go along. With the book I’m currently writing, one of the mysteries, I’ve been more seat-of-pants than every before. About ¾ through, I finally did some outlining, then immediately threw in a twist I hadn’t planned on! But I do know how I want it to end.

9) Which of your books is your favorite?
Usually the one I’m currently working on! But I always will have a soft spot for DANCE WITH THE DRAGON.

It was the first thing I wrote that I could tell had a strong plot and that I believed in 100%. I’m sure that’s why it was the first one to get published. After that, I tried to make all of my future stories just as compelling, because I’d gotten a sense of what worked.

10) Do you incorporate some of yourself into your characters? Personality traits? Likes? Dislikes?
All of a writer’s characters represent aspects of him/herself, so even my villains come from my “dark side.” It’s like method acting—you have to tap into times when you were extremely jealous, furious, desperate, etc. As for heroines, until recently most have been superficially very different from me, though with similar values. They are just a lot more courageous in how far they’ll go to stand up for those values! For the mystery series, I deliberately wrote a character who’s a younger version of me, and gave her similar tastes and experiences. The biggest difference is that she’s a bit psychic and I'm not! But as soon as she started doing the things she needed to do for the stories, she became her own person, too.

11) What do you think is the perfect hero/heroine? Why?
The “perfect” hero or heroine can’t be too perfect, or the reader can’t identify. I think you need a relatable but fundamentally good person. My heroine in PARAGON is very homely and can’t really change that. She gets a chance at love with a “perfect” man, but finds the moral price too high and has to make a big sacrifice. I think readers can identify with that sense of being flawed and rejected and are rooting for her to find happiness. Reviewers have commented on what an unusual and moving heroine she is.

12) What is your latest release? Please share the blurb and purchase info with us.
My latest is ONE BLOOD, the prequel to DANCE WITH THE DRAGON. A vampire travels to Princeton University to hunt down and romance a brilliant and beautiful archaeologist, the last living descendant of his arch-enemy. She fights his control, though, and resolves to destroy him. After centuries of preying on humanity, has he finally met his match? ONE BLOOD can be purchased from Amazon through my publisher’s website.

13) What do you have in the works?
The first book in my Quinn Matthews Haunting Mystery series, DARK MUSIC, is currently under contract with a publisher. I’m working on the second, called HEX, DEATH AND ROCK’N’ROLL.

14) Do you have any suggestions/comments for prospective authors?
Learn the conventions of the various genres and decide where your work belongs. (That confused me for many years!) Then you can still cross genres and break rules, but at least you’ll know that’s what you’re doing. Big publishers can be pretty rigid about categories, though, so be prepared to publish “small” if necessary.


1) If you could be an animal, what would it be?
A horse. I’m even tempted to think I was one in a previous life. Why? I’ve always been tremendously drawn to them for their beauty, athleticism and sensitivity. (I’ve ridden a lot and owned my own Thoroughbred mare for a short while.) I think I share some of their faults, too—I also get high-strung, rebellious and a little nuts when I feel boxed in!

3) If you had super powers, what would they be?
Super strength.

I could fix a lot of stuff around my house and yard without having to hire professionals.

4) If you could be an immortal, what would you want to be?
I’d have to say a vampire, even though I’m well aware of the downside, having dealt with it in my characters. Why? Mind control! Who wouldn’t want to bend others to your will? I’d only use it on people who really deserved it, but--!

5) If you could change something about the world, what would it be?
Make people take the long view of how their actions affect others, and not just serve their own selfish needs.

Most people who do bad things are not deeply evil, the just don’t think and don’t care about anything that doesn’t immediately benefit them. Our whole economy and ecology have been wrecked by that attitude.

6) What would be a perfect date for you?
It probably would involve a spooky event or setting. A great play or concert, plus dinner at an atmospheric restaurant? A Halloween party with lots of creative types? Something unusual that would provide inspiration!

7) Is there anywhere you’d like to visit?
I’ve seen a little of the American south, but I’d like to see more. In Europe, I’d like to go to southern Spain. As I get older, places with a slower, more natural way of life really appeal to me.

8) Do you have any obsessions?
Actually, my fiction writing is a big one. If I go for too long without working on it, I get cranky and depressed. When I finally find time to work on my latest project, the clouds lift and I realize that’s what I was missing. It keeps me sane.

9) Do you have a crush on any actor/actress?
I do sometimes fixate on certain performers as models for my characters. I think it’s because I’m very visual, and to avoid cliches I need to picture someone clearly. Right now, I’m writing about a rock singer in his late 20s (my heroine’s client) who’s a mix of a young Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp and Cillian Murphy. That might seem like a weird mix, but you probably get the picture—good-looking and sexy but also offbeat and androgynous. He’s shaping up as a fun character.

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